Friday, October 28, 2011

Kylie Minogue: 20 Greatest Singles '87-'10

An idea born out of boredom during a slow work day took an interesting change of direction. Listing favorite Kylie Minogue songs of mine became an almost impossible task.

The sheer boundlessness of Minogue's discography would fill a "Top 100" countdown easily. I wasn't quite ready for such a massive undertaking yet. Instead, I decided to draw from her singles well and narrow it to at least 20 favorites.

The timeliness of this random act couldn't have been better. Capping off the hugely successful Les Folies tour earlier this year stirred a feeling of appreciation. Looking back is something I always enjoy and when it comes to the "Pocket Venus of Pop," Ms. Minogue's hallowed halls are always fun to stroll down. There were some singles I'd have loved to include such as "Step Back in Time," "If You Were With Me Now," "Breathe," "Love At First Sight," "Red Blooded Woman," "In My Arms," "Better Than Today," etc. It does feel a bit endless. However, what I did pick evince Kylie Minogue's appetite of pop changeability. A quick reference note on the chart positions used. I  focused on two of her largest markets: England and Australia. While wildly popular in Asia and Europe, there was no room for every country in this exercise. I did include America for the singles that managed to chart here.

Selection Number 20: "Never Too Late"
Release Date: October 1989 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Stock, Aitken, & Waterman
Album: Enjoy Yourself (1989)
Chart Position: #4 (U.K.), #14 (AU)
Synopsis: Flashing into existence with a sparkling synth riff, an immediate melody carries the listener up, up, up into the pop heavens with a sing-a-long chorus.The beat is a bit more insistent on "Never Too Late," an unconscious shift in sound later to be mined fully on the following long player Rhythm of Love (1990). Purely joyful, this is accurate proof as to why Minogue's Stock-Aitken-Waterman years were pivotal in her career origin.

"Never Too Late"
Directed By: Pete Cornish

Selection Number 19: "I Should Be So Lucky"
Release Date: December 1987 (U.K., AU, U.S.A.)
Written By: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Stock, Aitken, & Waterman
Album: Kylie (1987)
Chart Position: #1 (U.K.), #1 (AU), #28 (U.S.A)
Sypnosis: The lyrical signpost that trademarked the love worn laments majority of her Stock-Aitken-Waterman period material professed, "Lucky" is nothing short of brilliant. Deft, forthcoming, but vulnerable, Minogue's overall feel here is emotion wrapped in sugary hooks.

"I Should Be So Lucky"
Directed By: Chris Langman

Selection Number 18: "Giving You Up"
Release Date: March 2005 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Miranda Cooper, Brian Higgins, Tim Powell, Lisa Cowling, Paul Woods, Nick Coler, Kylie Minogue
Produced By: Brian Higgins, Xenomania
Album: Ultimate Kylie (2005)
Chart Position: #6 (U.K.), #8 (AU)
Synopsis: A clicking mecha groove knocks in all the right places. "Giving You Up" benefits from an assured chorus and verse that interplay with the frenzied pace of the arrangement. Minogue's attitude is maneater-cum-runway model, she also drops one of her best lines: "A girl's gotta suffer for fashion. She knows what a body can do. She finds a man and she makes him her passion, I'm happy trying all the time with a boy like you."

"Giving You Up"
Directed By: Alex & Martin

Selection Number 17: "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi"
Release Date: October 1988 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Stock, Aitken, & Waterman
Album: Kylie (1987)
Chart Positions: #2 (U.K.), #12 (AU)
Synopsis: Teary-eyed circumspection gives "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi" a "wisdom beyond its years" profundity. Out of all of Mingoue's earliest releases, "Je Ne Sais..." has the ability to shine brightly if ever given a re-recorded studio treatment. It was evidenced when Minogue resurrected it for her initial Showgirl concert shows in 2005.

"Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi"
Directed By: Chris Langman

Selection Number 16: "What Kind of Fool? (Heard It All Before)"
Release Date: August 1992 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Kylie Minogue, Mike Stock, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Stock & Waterman
Album: Greatest Hits (1992)
Chart Positions: #14 (U.K.), #17 (AU)
Synopsis: One of the two new songs recorded for Minogue's wrap-up of her S.A.W. years, "Fool" is fast and fun. The vocal given here showed a resilience and character, one that gained traction on Minogue's third and fourth albums from this time. That strength would be capitalized on with her later recorded output.

"What Kind of Fool? (Heard It All Before)"
Directed By: Greg Masuak

Selection Number 15: "Where Is the Feeling?"
Release Date: July 1995 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Wilf Smarties, Jayn Hanna
Produced By: Brothers in Rhythm
Album: Kylie Minogue (1994)
Chart Positions: #16 (U.K.), #31 (AU)
Synopsis: One of the two "lost" deConstruction label singles, "Feeling" was the final release from Kylie Minogue. The single edit, often termed as the "BIR Dolphin Mix," featured components from the jubilant album version, as well as its acoustic companion. Said acoustic version saw general release on the 2003 expanded re-release of Kylie Minogue. Surreal and sensual, the spoken word verses ground the song in the throbbing throes of desire, taking the song to unimaginable places. "Where Is the Feeling?" in this incarnation is only available on its parent maxi-single or the deConstruction centered collection Hits + (2002).

"Where Is the Feeling? (BIR Dolphin Mix)"
Directed By: Keir McFarlane

Selection Number 14: "Spinning Around"
Release Date: June 2000 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Ira Shickman, Osborne Bingham, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul
Produced By: Mike Spencer
Album: Light Years (2000)
Chart Positions: #1 (U.K.), #1 (AU)
Synopsis: Returning to that pop fussiness of old? In actuality a return to a carefree state of mind is more like it. An anthem of independence and reimagination, "Spinning Around" wore a throwback urban disco sound that owed to "You've Got the Best of My Love" by The Emotions.

"Spinning Around"
Directed By: Dawn Shadforth

Selection Number 13: "2 Hearts"
Release Date: November 2007 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Kish Mauve
Produced By: Kish Mauve
Album: X (2007)
Chart Positions: #4 (U.K.), #1 (AU)
Synopsis: Her riskiest single since '97's "Some Kind of Bliss"? It's a sure bet. Hitting the ground running after her cancer diagnosis and recovery two years prior, Minogue slid into the spangly glam-rock jam. It was complete with jaunty piano bangs and enough guitar to chew on. Throughout the musical bedlam, Minogue's voice is loose and sexy.

"2 Hearts"
Directed By: Dawn Shadforth

Selection Number 12: "Slow"
Release Date: November 2003 (U.K., AU), February 2004 (U.S.A.)
Written By: Kylie Minogue, Dan Carey, Emiliana Torrini
Produced By: Dan Carey, Emiliana Torrini
Album: Body Language (2003)
Chart Positions: #1 (U.K.), #1 (AU), #91 (U.S.A.)
Synopsis: The minimalist, electronic back-drop of "Slow" still stands as one of Minogue's best singles. Slinky, its modus operandi is seduction plain and simple. The opening lyric of "I knew you'd be here tonight, so I put my best dress on" will send the listener into sensory overload.

Directed By: Baillie Walsh

Selection Number 11: "Chocolate"
Release Date: June 2004 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Karen Poole, Johnny Douglas
Produced By: Johnny Douglas
Album: Body Language (2003)
Chart Positions: #6 (U.K.), #14 (AU)
Synopsis: Body Language as an album possessed Minogue's most velvet like ballads since Kylie Minogue (1994). "Chocolate" with its dramatic prose against a canvas of melodic changes, it's one of Minogue's best performances. The middle eight draws everything in; a luxuriate center that like its real life Lindt candy counterpart smoothly melts.

Directed By: Dawn Shadforth

Selection Number 10: "Finer Feelings"
Release Date: April 1992 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Mike Stock, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Brothers in Rhythm
Album: Let's Get To It (1991)
Chart Positions: #11 (U.K.), #60 (AU)
Synopsis: "Finer Feelings" was an inhouse work from the recently broken Stock-Aitken-Waterman trio; now down to Mr. Stock and Waterman. The single version though confessed a brooding, pastel cool courtesy of Dave Seaman and Steve Anderson, known collectively as Brothers In Rhythm. The first working project for Minogue and the Brothers was fruitful, laying the groundwork for her prolific deConstruction age.

"Finer Feelings"
Directed By: Dave Hogan

Selection Number 9: "All the Lovers"
Release Date: June 2010 (U.K., AU, U.S.A)
Written By: Jim Eliot, Mima Stilwell
Produced By: Jim Eliot, Stuart Price
Album: Aphrodite (2010)
Chart Positions: #3 (U.K.), #13 (AU), #101 (U.S.A)
Synopsis: Functioning between the space of a ballad and uptempo, "All the Lovers" sweeps into an orchestrated feel that will bring to mind a spiritual salvation. Minogue's vocal bravura is confident, not cocky, lending a level of emotional connection rarely seen in modern pop music.

"All the Lovers"
Directed By: Dave Meyers

Selection Number 8: "In Your Eyes"
Release Date: February 2002 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Kylie Minogue, Richard "Biff" Stannard, Julian Gallagher, Ash Howes
Produced By: Richard "Biff" Stannard, Julian Gallagher
Album: Fever (2001)
Chart Positions: #3 (U.K.), #1 (AU)
Sypnopsis: A hot blooded, mirrorball spinner, "In Your Eyes" takes no prisoners. Its incessant pulse raising beat pounds while Minogue and a host of sonic effects ride the spine of the song. Including several snatches and percussion tricks, "In Your Eyes" will never wear out its welcome.

"In Your Eyes"
Directed By: Dawn Shadforth

Selection Number 7: "Got To Be Certain"
Released Date: May 1988 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Stock, Aitken, & Waterman
Album: Kylie (1987)
Chart Positions: #2(U.K.), #1 (AU)
Synopsis: Vital and youthful, "Got To Be Certain" is the veritable "Smilie Kylie" chestnut that is too lovable to deny. With its repetitious clap-a-long touches, it has a peppy glide to its step. Minogue's voice, even in its earliest incarnation has presence, but is limited by her lack of experience at this point.

"Got To Be Certain"
Directed By: Chris Langman

Selection Number 6: "Some Kind of Bliss"
Release Date: September 1997 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Kylie Minogue, James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore
Produced By: James Dean Bradfield, Dave Eringa
Album: Impossible Princess (1998)
Chart Positions: #22 (U.K.), #27 (AU)
Synopsis: The other lost deConstruction label single, "Bliss" remains misunderstood to the present day by fans, critics, and maybe Kylie Minogue herself. Ravishingly addictive in its collision of Tamla Motown violins and British rock accessories, Minogue's athletic vocal fuses all the elements into a beautiful whole. The longing here is almost palpable.

"Some Kind of Bliss"
Directed By: David Mould

Selection Number 5: "Better the Devil You Know"
Release Date: April 1990 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Stock, Aitken, & Waterman
Album: Rhythm of Love (1990)
Chart Positions: #2 (U.K.), #4 (AU)
Synopsis: La Minogue's best love song employs equal amounts of melancholy and dance music fuel. "Better the Devil You Know" was a gesture toward a marked sophistication musically, vocally, and lyrically. Seen as an anthem to many, "Devil" also has the ability to communicate on a sensitive level, allowing it a broader identity outside of a dance context.

"Better the Devil You Know"
Directed By: Paul Goldman

Selection Number 4: "Can't Get You Out of My Head"
Release Date: September 2001 (U.K., AU), January 2002 (U.S.A.)
Written By: Rob Davies, Cathy Dennis
Produced By: Rob Davies, Cathy Dennis
Album: Fever (2001)
Chart Positions: #1 (U.K.), #1 (AU), #7 (U.S.A)
Synopsis: The inescapable anthem that solidified Minogue's brand of pop and reignited interest in the United States was simple and clean. Laboring several pulses below the clubbier cuts on its parent album Fever, "Head" was hard enough to bob heads and move feet.

"Can't Get You Out of My Head"
Directed By: Dawn Shadforth

Selection Number 3: "What Do I Have to Do?"
Release Date: January 1991 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman
Produced By: Stock, Aitken, & Waterman
Album: Rhythm of Love (1990)
Chart Positions: #6 (U.K.), #11 (AU)
Synopsis: By this time Minogue had grown, almost overnight, into the pop siren we'd know today. "What Do I Have to Do" is one of those diamonds in Minogue's backlog that shows if the urgent, feminity of "What..." had wider exposure Stateside, Minogue would have broken here much earlier than she did.

"What Do I Have to Do?"
Directed By: Dave Hogan

Selection Number 2: "Put Yourself in My Place"
Release Date: November 1994 (U.K., AU)
Written By: Jimmy Harry
Produced By: Jimmy Harry
Album: Kylie Minogue (1994)
Chart Positions: #11 (U.K.), #11 (AU)
Synopsis: Dreamy and full of atmosphere, Minogue's take on New York Quiet Storm reaches for resolution in love. It's a song for the "grown and sexy" Minogue fans as it were. Confused and aching verses give way to a defiant chorus, "Put Yourself in My Place" is as real as pop music gets.

"Put Yourself in My Place"
Directed By: Keir McFarlane

Selection Number 1: "Confide in Me"
Release Date: August 1994 (U.K. & AU)
Written By: Steve Anderson, Dave Seaman
Produced By: Brothers in Rhythm
Album: Kylie Minogue (1994)
Chart Positions: #2 (U.K.) #1 (AU)
Synopsis: "Confide in Me" is a song that is a benchmark, a touchstone for reinvention."Confide in Me" sought to shatter any preconceived ideas about her and let the music speak for itself.Clocking in at no less than six minutes, the cut is an ambitious rewrite of James Bond styled-pop. Even better, "Confide in Me" forever removed doubt that Minogue herself couldn't carry a song vocally.

"Confide in Me"
Directed By: Paul Boyd

[Editor's Note: All of Kylie Minogue's albums mentioned are in print. Anything prior to 2001 may not be domestically available in the States. Anything from 1987-2000 can of course be special ordered via your local indie record store, online via Amazon or eBay, or iTunes. For current information on Kylie Minogue, visit -QH]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Following: The Path of The Bangles

Jangling into existence out of the Los Angeles Paisley Underground, The Bangles became the quintessential ‘80’s rock and pop girl group in 1984. This, of course, was in the wake of the The Go-Go’s impending dissolution, their predecessors, a year later in 1985.

Susanna Hoffs, (guitar), sisters Debbi (drums) and Vicki (lead guitar) Peterson, and Michael Steele (bass guitar) in hindsight could rock in a variety of classic and commercial styles. They then would wrap those styles in their warm, four-part harmonies. The Bangles vocalizing was, and is, an integral part of their appeal.

History has tended to write The Bangles off as an MTV-ready doll pack. The release of their fifth long player Sweetheart of the Sun (2011), refutes that they are an '80's relic. The path to Sweetheart has had its share of bumps, including their initial break-up in 1989, reformation in 2003, and departure of bassist Michael Steele recently. Steele’s absence on Sweetheart is not a complete detriment, as will be discussed shortly. Short on a “larger” discography, The Bangles material is one of the most solid album-by-album works by any female oriented grouping or band, as I will now detail.

All Over the Place (1984, Columbia)
Produced By: David Kahne
The official starting point for The Bangles, on a major label, was a nice compromise between the indie and the professional. Kahne’s production keeps the band’s playing up front and center, and that playing was charming and precise. Rollicking feminism emblazons “Hero Takes the Fall” and “Tell Me,” but cooler numbers like the kisses-on-the-wind fun of “Going Down to Liverpool” and “Live” offer a more playful side for listeners as well. Of course, it is their voices that blend so well with the settings and each Bangle gets a lead to shine. Sexy, literate, and brisk, All Over the Place showed itself to be a bright start to a big future.

Highlights: “Hero Takes the Fall,” “James,” “Going Down to Liverpool,” “More Than Meets the Eye”

Featured Video: "Going Down to Liverpool"

Different Light (1986, Columbia)
Produced By: David Kahne
Amazingly, whilst the obvious commercial gleam shone on Different Light, The Bangles still kept their '60's tints and shades present throughout. This is due in fact to The Bangles sharing creative space, versus relinquishing it, to their guest songwriters. Jules Shear (Cyndi Lauper) contributed "If She Knew What She Wants," and Prince (under the alias "Christopher," it was his Parade (1986) era) offered the wispy "Manic Monday." It was the Liam Sternberg cut, "Walk Like an Egyptian," that took The Bangles all over the globe though. There are other trinkets to discover, The Bangles work is just as captivating as the material written for them. "Following" captures their trademark haunting approach, Steele taking the lead on this reflective gem.

Highlights: "A Different Light," "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Return Post," "Following"

Featured Video: "Walking Down Your Street"

Everything (1988, Columbia)
Produced By: Davitt Sigerson
An apt title, collecting all the moods The Bangles brought forth in one place: spring curiosity, summer sensuality, autumnal preponderance, and winter catharsis. Sigerson turned up the pop even more, but The Bangles were right along with him. Their playing, with that Paisley spice built into it, didn't allow additional musicians to white out their band sound. With tension in the group boiling underneath the surface, songs such as "I'll Set You Free," "Complicated Girl," and "Crash and Burn" jumped off the record with energy and emotion. Ending on a high note creatively, critically, and commercially, Everything was their last album for 14 years.

Highlights: "In Your Room," "Bell Jar," "Be With You," "Make a Play For Her Now"

Featured Video: "In Your Room"

Doll Revolution (2003, Koch Records)
Produced By: Brad Wood
A reunion too long in the making, Revolution accomplished uniting the garage and contemporary styles in rock and pop as their past albums had. This time, The Bangles handled majority of the songwriting, excluding a raring rocker written by Mr. Elvis Costello: "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)." The input of all four women's words, their respective journeys in love and life are given lush treatments. The saucy stabs in "Nickel Romeo," the lullaby ease in "I Will Take Care of You," and the embrace of solitude in "Single By Choice" were delivered with those vibrant harmonies, still crisp and bold. Arguably, their best record since Everything.

Highlights: "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)," "Stealing Rosemary," "Nickel Romeo," "Single By Choice"

Featured Video: "Something That You Said"

Sweetheart of the Sun (2011, Waterfront Records)
Produced By: The Bangles, Matthew Sweet
Surprising and bittwersweet, this newest entry into The Bangles discography is an even stronger homage to their Paisley Underground roots than ever before. Sadly, Michael Steele did not return to the fold, leaving Vicki and Debbi Peterson, and Susanna Hoffs to soldier on as a trio. Steele's smoky voice doesn't go unnoticed in its absence, but the remaining members pick up slack, with aplomb. Instant and memorable favorites such as "Under a Cloud," lead single "I'll Never Be Through With You," and "Circles in the Sky" will delight the faithful and the newly converted. Stepping into production duties with Matthew Sweet, The Bangles alternate between guitar crunch and melodic sweetness, the former is emphasized moreso by the conclusion of Sweetheart.-QH

Highlights: "Under a Cloud," "I'll Never Be Through With You," "Circles in the Sky," "Open My Eyes"

Featured Video: "I'll Never Be Through With You," live, Washington D.C., The 9:30 Club

[Editor's Note: For more information on The Bangles, visit]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gloria Estefan Gets Her "Miss Little Havana" On

When we last left Gloria Estefan she was getting her Spanish fly on (again) with 90 Millas (2007). After 27 years in the glow of success, Estefan had the least to prove. So when news began to circulate of Estefan prepping a new album, one geared toward four-on-the-floor hijinks, it raised eyebrows. No one could argue with Estefan's dance floor clout, but she hadn't made an active recording based in dance since 1998's gloria! Following that iconic album wouldn't be an easy feat.

Fans worried Estefan might have a bout of uncharacteristic insecurity and try to acclimatize herself to less-than sonics. Their fears were confirmed when Pharrell Williams was announced as the producer of the project. A member of the groundbreaking hip-hop outfit N*E*R*D, he doubled as an artist and producer on his own. Williams' work in the last few years eyed the commercial rather than the creative. Major production failures on Madonna's Hard Candy (2008) and Shakira's She Wolf (2009) didn't assist in assuaging the fear Estefan's faithful had.

No one guessed that Estefan and Williams could find muses in each other. The creation of Miss Little Havana has managed to be a career best for both parties. Mirroring the aforesaid gloria! in motif and tone, Miss Little Havana positions itself to restructure Estefan's dance music. Where gloria! was overflowing and sumptuous, Havana stays lean and urgent during its playing time.

Pharrell's instinctual knowledge of that "in the pocket" moment of a song paired well with Estefan's keen Latin instrumentation. Unlike his chrome clattering works prior, Pharrell allowed Estefan to substitute her musical flora along his productions. Estefan's traditionalism tied to Pharrell's modernity translated to Havana being the veritable "lightning in the bottle" proceeding.

The title track, a lyrical ode to the perilous journey of youth, is smart. Smart in that it employs elements of retro likability in its smidgen of Shannon's "Let the Music Play" cowbell and a "breakin' beat" right out of '84. The various tints and shades of the music alternate between vintage disco relaxation ("I Can't Believe") and current cool ("Heat"). "Wepa," the lead single and current reigning U.S. dance chart hit as of this review, is a hyperactive distillation of Estefan's spice and sting ethos. Almost too heady at its breakneck B.P.M. pace, the listener will determine their own affinity to the cut. "Say Ay" a sticky, Spanglish lip smacker and the "it melts in your mouth, not in your hand" smoothness of "Right Away" are fantastic.

One is hard pressed not to cheer Estefan on for the effortlessness in which she delivers the goods as the record plays. Stumbles are few. Her usually endearing ballad falls prey to lack of lyrical presence on "Time is Ticking." The "Wepa" remix with Pitbull is redundant, as the song is so high energy on its own it requires no further reworking. A cover of "Let's Get Loud," made famous by fellow Blend favorite Jennifer Lopez, is lackluster. It was written by Estefan and longtime collaborator Pablos Flores, a possible outtake from the gloria! era. Estefan gave it to Lopez who made it a staple for herself. Regardless, the song is flat no matter who sings it.

Directed By: Ray Kay

Miss Little Havana parallels gloria!, complimenting it rather than surpassing it. The unlikely match of Pharrell and Estefan crafted a work that is authentically her own, but flashy enough to get those unaware of that Estefan magic curious. Four and a half out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: The Miss Little Havana album is a Target only exclusive, available through their stores physically. Digitally it is available on iTunes. For current news on Gloria Estefan, visit her official site.-QH]

Hip-Hop & I: An Essay of Discovery & Reflection

Ok, it's 1994, the "West End" of Dayton, Ohio. The year that Da Brat's Funkdafied and The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die were just two of many hip-hop records to dominate the airwaves.

The genre was in its powerful second decade and thoroughly mainstream by this time. Yet, all this nine-year old cared about was a Swedish pop foursome named Ace of Base who were breaking America with a song called "The Sign."
That was a testament to my voluntary and involuntary isolation from hip-hop, its music and subsequent culture. Yes, I was a black boy in what many considered (and still do) the "black side" of town. By default I was immersed, as anyone my age would have been, in the wake of the colonization of this music. I was down with Naughty By Nature's "OPP" even though I only knew it as a chant-ready sing-along in the backseat of our Buick. When 1995 came around I loved singing along to Mariah Carey and Ol' Dirty Bastard on her "Fantasy" remix.

Though unlike my Dad, my younger brother, or any of my male peers, hip-hop didn't connect with me. Inside. It didn't stir my spirit or touch that place that I knew it should. Majority of the conflict dealt with my emerging sexuality. Hip-hop spoke a similar sentiment that generally defined Black America's position on homosexuality: You are not of us, go away from us.

So I did.

At 16, my ear had started to create its own universe. In a place like Dayton where there is no scene, you have to make your own and I made mine with music. My opinions toward hip-hop had slowly thawed, but not by much.

I allowed myself the luxuries of "old school" hip-hop. Emcee's that were friendly enough to work with the female singers I admired also got a pass sometimes. However, nothing went further than that. My lack of interest reflected the struggle I was having with said sexuality. The exaggerated image of masculinity in African-American society found its stage in hip-hop. Being attracted to what I (superficially) perceived as strength and sensuality was that form and its expression in hip-hop's institution. Psychology aside in 2002, the year I came out, I nursed crushes on Joe Budden and Cam'Ron look-a-likes in my class. Infatuations with straight black boys who'd soon as spit on me than talk to me.

College arrived and that "widening of life" atypical of the period began to take place. It was 2006 and my appetite for music was in rapid bloom. Any and everything was up for consumption: disco, alternative, neo-soul. My love affair with Quiet Storm and jazz was a year away. Then on a random day in 2006 I found him: Lupe Fiasco.

Instantly I was transplanted from being a slightly less awkward, more confident 21 year-old back to the shy, foppish slip of a teen that lusted after my black high school crushes. Lupe's stoic stare captured me as he floated in mid-air on his album cover. He was surrounded by Japanese boy culture objects and my curiosity heightened even more. I began to recall reading about a single he'd released called "Kick, Push." Driven by music fueled curiosity, and hormones, I decided to check out what he offered. Little did I know that this decision started a romance with hip-hop that thrives to the moment of this sentence being typed.

I discovered my tastes were specific and the jazzy beats of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul appealed to me. I did enjoy some mainstream, creative presences in LL Cool J, Missy Elliott, Will Smith, and Salt 'N Pepa. Legends like Eric B. & Rakim put me in trances with albums like Follow the Leader (1989) and Don't Sweat the Technique (1992). Substance and style driven gentleman like Common and Mos Def captivated me, even the swanky Southerners OutKast caught my attention. The list grew endless. I began to see and hear the poetry, the range of sound, the presence these individuals had to offer me. I saw why this genre galvanized and enthralled, it was alive!

Later, after I joined the ranks of the arts weekly The Dayton City Paper, I got to interview one of my favorite hip-hop figures, Common. It was beyond what I ever imagined. Yet, inside me lurked that feeling of uncertainty, that this movement wasn't designed for me. I got the poetic stances, the varied musical patchworks that emphasized my mantra for music equality: quality over quantity.

The question remained that as an art form, did this represent me as a young, gay African-American male? I don't know. It's an issue looming over Black America. Its infested roots of homophobia, intolerance, violence (emotional and physical) lie within the recesses of the Janus masked black church. Hip-hop merely gives back to us what it was partially birthed out of. I've seen strides to embrace the black GLBTQ community, but much work still lingers. Maybe it's enough to appreciate from an aesthetic distance. Despite the difference in sexual orientation, we're all vibing to the same universal beat hip-hop offers to people of color. It may not be soon, but I'm happy to offer healing and connection. It can begin here, with hip-hop and I.-QH